How are little German kids taught about Hitler?

For some reason I get the feeling it wasn’t the same stuff I saw in school, the bodies of jews stacked like cordwood, etc.
I was taught (in the USA) that every nazi was evil to the core, brainwashed soldiers with no soul that killed thousands of inocents. Maybe that wasn’t in the text, but it was implied.
“Your grandpa pascked people into railcars and left them to freeze.” wouldn’t fly I think. How are kids in Germany today told about the history of their nation?


  • packed not pascked

Hmm, well I lived in Germany on two separate ocassions, once for a 2 years when I was 2 (so obviously I didn’t learn anything then about Hitler), and the second time for 3 years when I was 7-9 years old. Im sorry to say that I dont really remember being taught about it :S, i dont know if it ws beucase I was still quite young (equivalent to grade 4 or so),
Sorry I couldnt be of mor ehelp

Though there is no fact to what I say just opinion, I would imagine that teachers and well…every non-Nazi German takes the ‘I am my own person, I will not let one deranged man dictate the way I feel towards Jews or feel anyway related to him because we came from the same Country and speak the same language.’ -approach.
Teachers should be free to explain the facts and not need to sidestep the issue because that was a long time ago, and they are not Hitler, they are not killers.
It it just another way for the Germans to take advantage of being better people and creating themselves an ego they can be proud of by learning from the mistakes of the past.


Exactly how many years were you two years old? :slight_smile:

Grade 1 was the best three years of my life :smiley:

hahaha, I mean to say 'the first time for two years WHEN I was 2/3" :smiley:
my bad

I’m not German so I don’t have firsthand experience, but I did read a column in the (London) TImes on this a few weeks ago which basically said that German schools had been entirely lax about teaching about that period of history through, for want of a better word “guilt”, but that things these days were “better”, and the “truth” was being taught in most schools. Notice the inverted commas as me fighting the assumptions that seem to be made in this thread that:

  • German children have something to be personally guilty of in what their grandparents did (or didnt do) during Hitler’s lifetime.
  • American, British of French children - to name a few - haven’t had periods in their nations’ past that are equally abhorrent and that are equally glossed over in schools. (Massacre of the plains Indians anyone? Often brutal British imperial rule?)
  • That history is so simple as that Germans and Hitler were “bad” during WWII and the America, Britain and the Allies were “good”. Life isn’t quite so simple.

And a debate on BBC Radio 2 yesterday - including both Brits and Americans - which said that the modern-day AMerican highschool education system was pretty appalling at teaching subjects such as history, providing a largely force-fed and unquestioning version of US and world history. Every nation is guilty of this. Ther Germans have for some time carried around this kind of collective guilt for actions that happened before they were born and I’m glad to hear that (according to the TImes article) there is now a generation that is aware of but does not feel personally guilty for the actions of their country during the 1930 and 40s.


IANAGerman, but there was a wonderful movie 14 years ago called The Nasty Girl which addressed this question. A high school girl, filled with lovely tales about how her heroic townspeople resisted the scourge of Nazism, decided for a school project to document what exactly happened in her town during the war. Turns out her respected elders were all complicit up to their eyeballs in the era’s atrocities. She was not a popular girl in her school or community by film’s end.

I’m German. I’ve been taught about the holocaust several times in my school career. There were pictures of concentration camps and mass murdered jews in my textbooks. We saw films about it and we even had concentration camp survivors talk to the class about their experiences at least twice.

My parents however, who were born in the early 50s (I was born in the late 70s) learned almost nothing about those times. So the education has improved a lot since then. My parent’s generation is still among the most pacifist and anti-nazi I can imagine.

I had a longer reply to this, but I didn’t find the right words, so it might have sounded as if I was defending the Germans of that time for what they did and push the guilt on only a few. I am not. But please keep in mind that not every German, not even every German soldier, was a nazi.

It sounds like you were taught a dangerous oversimplification. Sure, nazism is an evil ideology, lots of nazis committed horrible atrocities, and many others who didn’t personally murder or torture anyone applauded the horrors. But the extreme, black-and-white picture you describe is obviously false, and it’s dangerous because it makes it more difficult to recognise similar evils in other places and at other times - and evil’s useful companion, cynical pragmatism (or good business sense).
Um, I’m straying into GD territory here, so I’ll shut up.

To give some information somewhat relevant to the OP: In Norway, we learn - of course - about the horros of holocaust, about the heroic Norwegian resistance, and notorious Norwegian traitors like Vidkun Quisling and Henry Rinnan. But - at least when I went to school 20 years ago- there was little or no mention of some of the the uglier sides of the story, such as the active cooperation the Nazis got from Norwegian police in rounding up jews, or the fact that Norwegian contractors were working on improving the runway at Værnes for the Nazis while fighting was still going on elsewhere in Norway. The horrible treatment of war children (children with a Norwegian mother and German father) after the occupation is also a topic touched lightly or not at all. So, at least in this country, there’s some white-washing of recent history, glossing over unpleasant but important truths.

And its not as if every member of the national socialist party was a mass-murdering baby-killer either.

I really wish people would bother to find out what national socialism was really about, the environment in which it developed, and the solutions it proposed for the very real problems of the times. I find the unquestioning bastardisation of “nazis” as dangerous as the unquestioning acceptance of nazi ideology in the past. Its incredibly dangerous to just write off “nazis” as a historical madness of ghouls and monsters without attempting to understand what led to national socialism and the activites that went on. Its not as if countries hadnt wanted more territory before or since, its not as if there hasn’t been ethnic cleansing before or since, and to write nazis off as this phenomenon of the 1930s and 1940s, as being monsters different from normal people is stupidity itself.


Of course we saw that, many times. It is also almost guaranteed that one will visit a concentration camp in school.

We were not taught that, because that would be a huge (and IMHO even dangerous) oversimplification.

Well, many did. Of course it’s not phrased that way, because it would depend on the grandpa.

Altogether the history of the Third Reich and the holocaust takes up a large part of the curriculum, not only in history. You read books on the topic in German classes, in a different class you learn how the current constitution was a reaction to the history of the Third Reich. It is by far the largest single topic in history and many things are connected to that. e.g. the Weimar republic from 1919 on is another important topic because the events of that time made the rise of the nazis possible.

I think you were just careful when you used “most schools” but you can safely say “all schools”. A school teaching anything else would be unthinkable.

I am German, went to school in the late 1960s/1970s/early 1980s. I imagine we learned much more about Nazism than pupils in the decades before as our teachers were of the generation that first made an issue of people’s complacency about history in the 1960s.

Primary school (age 6-9): no history that I remember. History (except a bit of local history) was not on the syllabus. So, in the terms of the OP, ‘little’ Germans do in fact get taught about nothing.

Secondary school (Gymnasium in my case; age 10-18): in stage I (age 10-15) Weimar Republic and Nazi period were studied in chronological sequence and in stage II (16-18) we had a half-year unit on Third Reich. In both cases the Nazi period was the subject for half a year or so. What we learned was what you’d expect to learn from any history book, about

  • anti-democratic holdovers in the Weimar Republic in judiciary/military/civil service
  • far-right groups in the Weimar Republic, assassinations by them
  • the early NSDAP
  • the troubles of the increasingly desperate governments 1929-1933
  • Machtergreifung events, abolition of other parties, Gleichschaltung, the methods of consolidation of power
  • the concentration camp system and its application first to political opponents then minorities
  • ‘euthanasia’, T4
  • expansionist politics, remilitarization of Rhineland
  • Danzig Corridor and ‘terror’ by Poland made propaganda issues
  • Hitler-Stalin pact, Gleiwitz, attack on Poland, outbreak of WW II
  • first military successes; occupation regimes, resistances
  • persecution of Jews etc., Einsatzgruppen, death camps. The pictures that you’d expect to see about that.
  • military defeat, occupation.
    The first treatment was more broad and chronological, the second focused more on the methods of holding on to power, Gleichschaltung and propaganda.

BTW it was not so much a matter of being taught about Hitler as about being taught about Nazism. Discourse on Nazism that I read of in the English-speaking world seems to treat the Third Reich as if it had been Hitler’s personal show.

In German class some of the books read/discussed were on the Nazi period (e.g. Anna Sehgers’ “The Seventh Cross”). In literary history we touched on the Blut und Boden literature but just in excerpts.

What I personally did not take part in was an excursion to a concentration camp (no major, preserved one in the region) and school/class visits by Holocaust survivors (something that seems to have been frequently organized only beginning in the 1980s/1990s; nowadays you see newspaper reports about such a school event in the region).

In religion class at school and in confirmation class (outside school) the churches’ failure, those churchmen who let themselves being coopted and the few resisters were an issue. Again, teachers and pastors were relatively young and progressive.

What people retain of all of this of course varies very much. Teenagers being teenagers I suspect that for a lot of people it’s “into one ear, out of the other ear” as we say.

As for continuing education, some magazines like Spiegel do a good job with miniseries of articles focusing on specific aspects that the anniversry cycle has got around to on that year. Again, a lot of people don’t read ‘serious’ journalism.

eegg writes:

> I was taught (in the USA) that every nazi was evil to the core, brainwashed
> soldiers with no soul that killed thousands of inocents.

Excuse me, but I don’t believe this for a second. Not even when you add “Maybe that wasn’t in the text, but it was implied.” American textbooks may be bad in certain respects, but they aren’t that bad. In my memory, they make rather dry, unemotional statements about the soldiers in opposing armies. You’re conflating your memory of textbooks with your memory of jokes you heard about Nazis, movies about them, TV shows about them, etc.

My first year of college was spent at the Institut für deutsche Studien (Intstitute for German Studies) in Bemidji, MN. It was a one year submersion program in german (food, classes, buildings, pretty much everything was german). This was back in 1991 not too long after the reunification. We talked about this subject and the Germans took a very clinical approach to Hitler and WW2. This is what happened, this is why, but it all is definitely segregated as the past (actually, this was the West Germans take on it, the one TA we had from the former East Germany really didn’t talk about it, so I’m not sure if her opinion was different.)